14th September 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

For nearly two centuries, following tl1e relaxation of laws against Catholics in our nation, our Catholic schools have been the bedrock of our mission to make Jesus Christ known and loved in our communities. They have formed an essential part of our wider contribution to the Common Good of society. The past few months have highlighted particularly just how vital our schools are and how their work and witness reveals the presence of Jesus Christ in our communities. When our Churches were unable to be open, our schools remained proactive in feeding the hungry, providing care and concern for the most vulnerable, and assisting key-workers in their important role during the Covid pandemic. I thank all those who work in our schools for their endeavours throughout this period not only in their task of education but also by the way they have supported the wider communities in which they serve.

Our schools are an integral and vital part of the Diocese of Lancaster’s mission, now and going forwards. In a Catholic school, every child is welcomed, valued, and respected, and the person and teachings of Jesus Christ form the foundation of the school’s life and activity. The Gospel values of love, truth, justice, forgiveness, which embraces special care for the vulnerable and those in need will be evident. In a Catholic school, our aim is that every child, whether Catholic or not, will be respected, affirmed, supported, and encouraged to reach their full potential, which for us is life in Christ Education is a potent weapon in combating poverty. Our Catholic schools are places where young people learn how to be of service to the world, not only as workers but as citizens.

Pope Benedict said when he addressed the children of our nation at Twickenham “A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints. Non-Catholics too will feel encouraged to practise virtue and to grow in knowledge and friendship with God alongside their Catholic classmates. Respect and friendship for members of other religious traditions should be among the virtues learned in a Catholic school.”

To help our young people to flourish, the Catholic life of a school must go beyond the mere teaching of RE, encompassing the way everyone relates to each other in a spirit enlivened by the Gospel’s call to love God and our neighbours. Our Catholic schools are crucial to the life of our Diocese in announcing the Gospel to the world and are able to do this in ways that parishes alone would find difficult.

A Catholic school is not just a building; it is a community, and those who form this community and participate in it cultivate this place of human growth. Over the years, our forefathers fought hard to establish and maintain Catholic Education in these lands. It is our tum lo ensure that Catholic Education is maintained and enabled to grow and develop for future generations particularly through greater collaboration between individual school communities.

To this end, I invite our parishes and schools to build Catholic Multi-Academy Trusts across the Diocese. Through these local families of schools I seek to protect, secure, and develop the Church’s mission in education. This critical step forward for Catholic education in our Diocese, seeks to ensure that every school sits within a network of collaboration so that each institution botl1 gives and receives support. The reality is lb.at Catholic schools must collaborate, viewing other Catholic schools as equal partners. Recognising the increased powers of intervention in struggling schools from government agencies, as Bishop, I am aware that we need to place secure structures around vulnerable schools to help them improve and flourish. If we do not act proactively, we become reactive to circumstances rather than guiding and controlling change.

The move to establish a network of Multi-Academy Trusts in the Diocese seeks to ensure that Catholic schools work closely together. Isolation will compromise the Church’s m1ssion in education and put at risk the provision of places of education for our families. The academisation process will enable transparent working relationships to he developed between Local Catholic schools to assist with school improvement, leadership recruitment, fom1ation, governance, and co-operation to strengthen our Catholic mission. This development moves beyond existing partnerships or federations to enable a new spirit of collaboration where the success of Catholic schools in our Diocese can remain productive and protected.

Initially, I am inviting schools in Cumbria to come together to form a Multi-Academy Trust. I want this to be a coalition of willing and innovative headteachers and governors who see this as an opportunity to benefit our Catholic education, a further our mission going forward. Over time, I would like all schools across the Diocese to move towards the previously published academy strategy but I want this to begin with those who recognise academisation as an opportunity. When the Cumbria Multi-Academy Trust is developed, I will ask the schools in the Preston area to move to academise. On the Fylde coast we will seek to develop and expand the existing Multi-Academy Trust.

With an assurance of my continued prayers and blessing,

+Paul Swarbrick
Bishop of Lancaster